These Are Officially the Ugliest Dogs in the World
It takes a special kind of ugly to win the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, but being ugly isn’t enough. A dog must also have a certain … something. Call it joie de vivre.
The unsightly pooches in photographer Ramin Rahimian’s series Worst in Show are among 27 canines who vied for the title at the wildly popular annual pageant held each summer at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California. More than 500 people watched the motley mix of mutts and purebreds strut their stuff. Judges consider traits like baldness, exaggerated underbites, and other deformities, but an ugly mug isn’t all that matters. “[The judges] were looking not only for a high level of ugly but also for some sort of interesting personality and character,” Rahimian says.
Rahimian has wanted to shoot the 27-year-old pageant since moving to Petaluma five years ago. He finally got his chance this year, and found the event swamped with photojournalists and TV cameramen. But Rahimian wasn’t there to wade into the news fray. “The sun was harsh and not the easiest to shoot, so I feel lucky to not have had to cover the contest that way,” he says. “I got to do my own thing in the shade far away from the chaos of it all.”
Rahimian erected a black backdrop with a Profoto and beauty dish near the stage, and asked passing owners if their dogs were available for glamor shots. He had each pup sit or stand on a table, and shot from a low angle to make his subjects appear heroic and statuesque. “The dogs were all champs—so easy to work with,” he says. “It helped to have the owners stand right behind me being silly for their babies.”
Most of the dogs he photographed were naturally ugly. There was a disproportionate number of Chinese crested, an affectionate and playful breed that is generally hairless save for tufts on its head and feet. One, Rascal Deux, came from a long line of repulsive dogs—his great grandfather, both grandmothers, and his father have all won ugly dog titles of some sort over the years—but he wasn’t ugly enough to snag the $1,500 grand prize. That went to Quasi Modo, a 10-year-old Pitbull-Dutch shepherd mix whose hunchback recalls the literary character he is named for. Quasi Modo was born with an unusually short spine that the judges said “epitomized excellence in ugliness.”
Some had less-than-happy stories attached to their appearance, made uglier through abuse and neglect. Sweepy Rambo, a blind Chinese crested and chihuahua mix that took second, suffered from a cloudy blue eye when her current owner adopted her from a shelter. “She looks like a large rat that has had a very long night, or week, or year,” Rahimian says. Thankfully all the contestants now have happy homes.
Although ugly, the point of the contest isn’t to make fun of the dogs or belittle their owners. Rather, it’s meant to show that even dogs like Quasi Modo and Sweepy Rambo make fine and faithful companions, even if they’re not the prettiest pups at the dog park.
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